Excuse the boring title. If you’ve been reading my blog you know last year I spent a lot of time talking about unemployment, feeling burned out by the job hunt, all that jazz. What you may not know is that I was on Medicaid for almost eight months of 2017, and how much it helped me have a high quality of life while I was unemployed and looking for work. I am still, even though I now have good health insurance through my job, so grateful that I was able to have Medicaid.
Now, I’m twenty-six, able-bodied, and a white woman with a Master of the Arts from a good Canadian university. You might not picture me as the kind of person who might need Medicaid. That’s where you’d be wrong. I’ve worked customer service, in college cafeterias, taking care of gardens, being a teaching assistant, and could always find work because I wasn’t too picky, but holy cow did 2017 throw me for a loop.
In early 2017 I was turning twenty-six, studying in Canada. I knew when I got back to the United States in April I would have to get health insurance somehow- but no longer through my parents. Due to the Affordable Care Act, my parents were able to keep me on their insurances until I was 26. When that expired, due not having a job, and therefor no income, the ACA website suggested I was eligible for Medicaid. At first I felt ashamed, because I never had to rely on any social safety net before. Then I got angry with myself- I’ve been paying taxes since I was fifteen, when I got my first job, and what were they for if not to help people who were having a hard time? For the first time, that included me, and that was okay!
A hard time I was indeed having. My life, when I came back to America, was fraught with money issues. I got a job back at a boutique in my hometown for a month, just enough to keep gas in my car and help my boyfriend pay rent for a month or two while I filled in shifts for my coworkers. We moved to Missoula, Montana so Logan could start his job, and I began searching for one in mid-June. It took four months, everybody. Four months. I applied to be a barista, a dishwasher, to work at a tourism agency. I did get interviews, but interviews that ended with rejections, though exciting and full of hope, didn’t pay the bills. They were progress but not the sort that paid for an oil change for my car or could help me financially contribute to the home Logan and I were living in.
I walked around handing my resume out to every business I walked into, dressed-up, ready to smile, shake hands, and show that I was hard-working and smart. I looked for free-lance work writing, editing, and photographing. I was on Indeed and Monster and the city, county, and state jobs job boards, sending in applications and always editing my resume, writing and editing letters of introduction, etc. I applied for remote-work jobs at tech firms to write and do research for them. Missoula is notorious for being the sort of place where you have to know somebody to get a job, and I tried networking, getting friends to help me meet like-minded people. I watched summer fade into chilly fall, and felt powerless and pathetic, a jobless blob.
However, Medicaid made it possible for me to get out of bed every morning. I knew what medical debt is the number one reason Americans file for bankruptcy. I knew that one fall, one person not paying attention and hitting me with their car, one freak accident could land me with the sort of debt that would destroy every plan I had ever made. The security that having Medicaid gave me to live my life, even while I was feeling so ashamed of my inability to find a job here in this well-educated mountain town, made it possible for me to breathe and do things. I felt safe floating the Clark-Fork River on a tire tube with Logan, watching ospreys catch fish in the river and falling under the spell of the smokey summer sunsets. Medicaid made me feel safe hiking in Glacier or even just walking around town on the long walks that eased my stress. That, to me, was invaluable.
Medicaid allowed me to see my regular dentist. I went to Planned Parenthood for my annual exam. When I had a really bad cold, I went to a clinic and got a prescription medication for very little money, such a paltry amount that even in my broke state I could pay it. I was feeling defeated in most ways, but I knew that even if something bad happened to my health, Medicaid would make it so that I would end up okay, and that the upward trajectory of my life would probably not end. In the end, I barely used Medicaid, but just having my little plastic Medicaid card in my wallet was so empowering. Medicaid made it possible for me to feel safe leaving my home. I cannot express enough what a weight was off my chest because of it.
I saw that on Thursday some states are going to try to mandate that people who have Medicaid work. And here’s my problem with that- people want to work. Nobody I know wants to just languish. I once Tweeted that America’s national sport was not baseball, but poor-shaming, and this is another example of that. Financially unstable Americans have been dealing with housing and rent price increases, wage stagnation going on for decades, the backlash of a recession that still ripples through our lives, student debt, and many more issues. Some of us are highly educated people who believed that our hard work in school would pay off, but have too many student loans to build savings or keep our chins up. So many Americans live on the financial edge of ruin. The idea that those of us who use safety nets like Medicaid, Section 8, food stamps, etc. are using them because we just don’t want to work, is absolutely ridiculous. It shouldn’t have taken somebody who has had as many opportunities like me four months to find work, but it DID.
Also, if you have to use Medicaid or Medicare or Section 8 or any other state or federal safety net system, please do NOT feel ashamed. It is ingrained in us through our culture and mythology here in America to believe that the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality will make sure that everything ends up okay. The reality that has been proven time and time again is that sometimes even a lot of hard work isn’t enough, and that we have sexism, racism, class systems, and more to reckon with. These things are real and do make a difference in who gets access to opportunities. I believe that there should be no shame associated with needing help and getting it through welfare programs. In fact, if anything, we should expand them, make them easier to access, and encourage people to use them, so that they can afford things they need, and get a leg up, because it is so hard to do so. For me, Medicaid facilitated my ability to job search without being paralyzed by fear that leaving my home could result in some medical event derailing my life. Now, I have a job in a place that helps domestic violence survivors and victims work through our legal system, get housing, and offer them support, options, and advocacy.
So, to end this post, thank you to the Affordable Care Act for allowing me to stay insured until I was twenty-six through my parents. Thank you to everybody working at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services who helped me get enrolled, who answered my questions, and who made me feel unashamed to use their services. Thank you to the doctors and medical professionals who took me in and took Medicaid as payment for my care. Medicaid changed my life and I barely used it, but just having it there made a huge difference in the quality of life I was able to have.